An Echelon Media Company
Friday December 9th, 2022

Fast-spreading UK-variant of COVID-19 detected in Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan university laboratory has detected the fast spreading B.1.1.7 (UK lineage) variant of the novel coronavirus in 92 samples obtained from different parts of the country, experts said.

Samples collected from January to the first week of February in Colombo, Awissawella, Ingiriiya, Biyagama, Wattala, Mathugama, Mannar and Vavuniya, as well as from a number of quarantine centres, were sequenced by researchers at the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

“While most of the virus lineages belonged to the previously circulating B.1.411 lineage (Sri Lankan lineage), a few viruses belonging to the B.1.1.7 (UK lineage) were detected from Colombo, Avissawella, Biyagama and Vavuniya and from a few individuals in the quarantine centers,” Neelika Malavige, Professor in Microbiology, Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine University of Sri Jayewardenepura said.

Malavige is also Director of the Centre for Dengue Research.

“The B.1.1.7 is the currently rapidly transmissible variant currently circulating in the UK and many other countries. It is associated with a 50% higher transmissibility than the other SARS-CoV2 variants,” she said.

Malavige further said this variant does not have any mutations that affect the efficacy of the vaccine. However, further analysis is underway.

While the new variant may have been introduced from overseas, she said, the existing B.1.411 variant could’ve mutated itself owing to its wide and rapid spread in the country.

“While it is possible that the B.1.1.7 was introduced from overseas, given the widespread detection of the virus in Sri Lanka, it is possible that our circulating virus strain acquired these mutations de novo, as seen in many other countries, where there is intense transmission of the virus.

A ‘mutations de novo’ means a genetic alteration that is present for the first time in one family member as a result of a variant (or mutation), she said.

Meanwhile, Dr Chandima Jeewandara, Director Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, further clarified that this is the same variant that was found in the English cricketer who was in Sri Lanka recently but was not transmitted by him.

Echoing Malavige, Jeewandara said the new variant was either imported from overseas or the current variant mutated.

Jeewandara further explained that the recent surge in the COVID cases in the country could be a reason for this mutation but cannot say for sure unless further tests are carried out.

The UK variant has spread to over 50 countries at the moment and is a dominant strain in Britain and according to reports, it is mutating yet again.

Two other variants were also found, a South Africa variant which has spread to over 20 countries and a variant from Brazil.

According to a BBC report, the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants could be much more contagious. All three have undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells. As a result, they seem to be better at infecting cells and spreading.

“Experts think the UK or “Kent” strain emerged in September and may be up to 70% more transmissible or infectious. The latest research by Public Health England puts it between 30% and 50%,” BBC said.

The South Africa variant, meanwhile, is expected to have emerged somewhere in October 2020. (Colombo/Feb12/2021)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment

Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

Continue Reading

India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers


ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)



Continue Reading

Mystery mattress sparks innuendo-filled row in Sri Lanka parliament

File photo of a mattress

ECONOMYNEXT — A mysterious luxury mattress said to have been paid for by a private company has found its way to the president’s office in the parliament complex, an opposition MP claimed, leading to an innuendo-filled exchange of words between the MP and the chief government whip.

Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Buddhika Pathirana told parliament on Friday December 09 that on July 28, a week after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in, some “items” had been transported to the parliament complex.

“None of these items were purchased by parliament. A private company had paid for them,” said Pathirana, announcing his intention to table all receipts.

According to the MP, the items had been moved to the space allocated for the president’s office inside the parliament building. Among these items had been a luxury mattress that the Matara district MP claimed was one foot thick.

“Why has a mattress like that been brought here, and why is it in the president’s office? As far as I know, nobody sleeps in that room. This raises a serious question as to whether someone goes to bed in that room,” he said.

“Either the president has to sleep in it or it’s his staff,” he added.

Pathirana urged Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to appoint a committee of MPs to investigate the matter, and the MP volunteered to inspect the bed himself.”

“We’ll also go and take a look. That’ll be good for president’s security and for that of this House. Can things paid for by a private company be brought in here?”

MP Pathirana claimed that though it was said that President Wickremesinghe had covered all expenses of his swearing in ceremony with his private funds, the company that paid for the mysterious mattress had in fact made the payments.

Pathirana’s SJB colleague Hesha Withanage who came to the MP’s defence amid howls of laughter from the government benches said it was a serious matter, urging the lawmakers not to make light of it. Withanage claimed that he had in his possession a letter directing an unnamed authority to provide the company in question 20 acres of land in Hambegamuwa, Hambantota.

He did not elaborate.

Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, meanwhile, told Pathirana and the SJB that the Speaker had said he would look into the matter.

“The speaker has said he will look into it. You’re not going to sleep in that bed, are you? I don’t know if you do and if that is why you’re so interested.

“There are much more important things to discuss. Talk about problems of the country without talking about about beds,” he said. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

Continue Reading